Lawsuits can strike fear in the hearts of dentists – not only for the costs involved, but for the damage they inflict on a dentist’s reputation that has taken a lifetime to build.
Where does liability end and common sense begin?
Recently the NY state court found that orthodontist Dr. Michael Donato was not negligent in the death of former patient Stephanie Hare. Ms. Hare’s family held Dr. Donato responsible for Stephanie’s death due to failing to detect a cancerous lesion during a December 2003 visit.
In April 2004, a lump was detected on her tongue by Dr. Donato, who ultimately referred her to an oral surgeon. But by then, the cancer was in its advanced stages. She died seven months later.
The family was seeking a $2.3 million award from Dr. Donato for pain and suffering.
The case pivoted around whether jurors would believe the cancerous lesion was present on Dec. 19, 2003 when Ms. Hare’s family said she complained of soreness to Dr. Donato; whether Dr. Donato should have found the lesion during a routine orthodontist examination; and whether he followed standard dental care during the exam.
“Stephanie’s death was not anybody’s fault,” Dr. Donato’s lawyer, Douglas Fitzmorris, told jurors in his summation. “Stephanie died of cancer. Dr. Donato is not to blame. The whole specter of this lesion being missed by Dr. Donato is not what happened. There was no deviation from accepted practice.”
And the jury agreed with Fitzmorris’ assessment of the case.
Should an orthodontist be held liable if he misses a cancerous legion? What if the patient’s complaints sound like issues stemming from braces and not cancer?
For more on this story, see Staten Island Advance.